Meadowsweet

Filipéndula u l m a

The story of meadowsweet, queen of the meadow, links mead, Cuchulainn, Queen Elizabeth I, and the invention of aspirin.

This is the number one herb for treating stomach acid problems, while also benefiting the joints and urinary system. Meadowsweet is effective for fevers and flu, diarrhea, headaches and pain relief generally. It well earns its name "herbal aspirin."

Rosaceae Rose family

Description: A perennial of up to 4 or 5 feet tall, with serrated leaves, silvery beneath, and fragrant masses of creamy-white flowers in high summer.

Habitat: Marshes, streams, ditches, and moist woodland.

Distribution: Widespread in its native Europe, introduced to north-eastern North America.

Related species: There are ten species in the genus worldwide.

Parts used: Flowering tops; less often, leaves and roots.

A European wild plant, fortunately more common now there is less spraying on field edges and hedgerows, meadowsweet has some delightful country names, including queen or lady of the meadow, maid of the mead, bridewort, and sweet or new mown hay. But plant historians suggest the origin of the common name is more to do with mead the honey drink than meadows as such. Meadsweet is another old name, and William Turner's herbal (1568) has "medewurte," a term also used by Chaucer two centuries earlier.

The creamy billows of meadowsweet's flowers have indeed been used for centuries as a flavoring for mead, wine, beer, and syrups, and still make a good choice.

Everybody says the smell is full of summer echoes, but some do find it rather overpowering. Matthew is one of these, and says: "I owe a lifelong debt to meadowsweet as this was the very first long word I uttered. At about three years old, according to my mother, when I was saying almost nothing else, out pops this word I'd heard on family walks in the Trent marshes. These days I'm more likely to swear, though, as I get hayfever if I'm too close to the flowers."

In herbal medicine terms, the plant gives much more than it takes. A sacred herb of the Druids, meadowsweet was well known to Celtic communities as a malaria and fever treatment. The legendary hero Cuchulainn was given it to calm his fits of rage and fevers, as recalled in the plant's Gaelic name, "belt of Cuchulainn."

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